Libby March for Project Marshall
It’s been almost 45 years since Kathy Stolz-Silvis was in foster care in Pennsylvania. Stolz-Silvis was nine years old when her father died, making her and her siblings eligible for survivor social security benefits. But she wasn’t aware of those benefits until decades later – after reading a investigation published by the Marshall Project and NPR.
A report released last year found that foster care agencies in at least 49 states and Washington, D.C., have been acting on behalf of foster youth to receive death, disability or old age benefits. combatant. Agencies often withhold funds, often without notifying their children, family members or attorneys.
Stolz-Silvis followed the instructions step by step to contact the Social Security Administration including the investigation, built with the information provided by the agency. This is where she hit the roadblock.
Stolz-Silvis says: “Out of curiosity, I called them to find out what happened to my benefits while I was in foster care. “The person on the other end of the line told me they weren’t authorized to give me that information.”
In recent months, the Marshall Project and NPR have received word from dozens of young adoptees who have described similar failed attempts to find out if a state or local agency has filed single to become “representative payee,” allowing the agency to receive its federal benefitsa process authorized by federal regulations.
Many said they tried to contact the Social Security Administration but had not received an answer. And those who know their benefits have been taken say there seems to be no obvious way to get the money back.
In an email, Darren Lutz, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, said to those asking about past benefits: “We maintain a record of the benefits we paid and can answer their questions.” The agency has “provided guidance and training to our employees on our rules and requirements for selecting representative payees, notifying appropriate parties, and monitoring the operation of foster care agencies acting as recipients of funds on behalf of a child in foster care.”
For current foster youth, Department of Children and Families spokesman Pat Fisher confirmed that both the agency and the Social Security Administration are developing joint guidance for agencies. state on how to handle these cases, although there is no deadline for release.
Jermaine Wilson, who is in foster care in Washington State, said he was supposed to receive disability benefits after being hit by a car at the age of 15. “a big run” from Social Security.
Melody Masi said she received Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits after her father died while she was in foster care in Virginia. When she called Social Security, she said she had been told by a representative that “she’s heard this stuff a lot” but that “unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do about it.” .”
Jayden Kiley was 17 years old and in foster care when her mother died, and she is eligible for death benefits from Social Security. But for eight months, from October 2019 to July 2020, she said, no one told her about the benefits – or that her mother had even passed away. She figured it out from a sibling.
“I don’t know any of this,” Kiley said.
For two years, Kiley tried to get information from Social Security about her benefits, but she said an agent told her that every time she called she was put at the end of waiting list, so she stopped calling for a while. In the end, she found out the amount due to her was about $8,500, but she says she hasn’t received any of it yet.
Supporters can only come Special case in the past, where judges restored the rights of a particular youth.
Amy Harfeld, national policy director for the Children’s Advocacy Institute, a nonprofit that works on behalf of foster people, expressed frustration with the agencies’ inaction. “It is unacceptable to ignore the young people at the forefront of the requirements,” she said.
Libby March for Project Marshall
inside original Marshall project / NPR report, most child services agencies indicate that it is legal for them to apply to Social Security to be the financial representative for adoption interests – despite federal regulations. stipulates that parents, adoptive parents, relatives, or family friends take precedence. Almost all agencies say they take money from children to reimburse for foster care costs.
In a landmark class action lawsuit in Alaska, district court ruling that the state should notify foster youth before applying for their federal aid. Appeal in an ongoing case.
Meanwhile, legislators at the local, state, and federal levels have begun to address the issue.
Last year, federal law that would prohibit public agencies from using Social Security benefits of foster youth in their budgets that are not advanced in Congress. As the bill’s lead sponsor, Democratic Representative Danny K. Davis of Illinois, said: “Yes, we’re still here after a year.”
This summer, Davis said he plans to reintroduce the law to protect youth rights while maintaining federal support for child welfare systems. The bill would require agencies to interview foster children to determine any relatives who could be designated as representative payees and who could set aside money for the children when they are old enough to leave foster care.
“Old age is a difficult period for many young people, and it is most desirable that most of those resources go into the hands of foster children,” Davis said.
Several states have taken action on the matter since the investigation was announced, including Nebraska, Illinois, Connecticut, California and Minnesota. There are also plans for a bill next year in Hawaii.
But these state and local measures only apply to youth who are currently in the foster system. Kiley and Wilson and other foster youth have repeatedly called their Social Security office about their entitlement to await future guidance from federal agencies. Many others still may not know their benefits have been realized.
“The essence of this practice, and the reason it has been allowed to persist for so long, is that it all happens behind the backs of the foster people and their lawyers,” Harfeld said. “It’s very rare to find young people who know this has happened to them.”